Supreme Court sides with tenants, landlordsThe Minnesota Supreme Court has decided a case challenging the constitutionality of Red Wing’s rental property inspection code can move forward.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
The Minnesota Supreme Court has decided a case challenging the constitutionality of Red Wing’s rental property inspection code can move forward.
The issue has been tied up in litigation for years as local tenants and landlords fought pieces of the code that they saw as unconstitutional.
The ordinance includes provisions allowing the city to seek administrative warrants to search the properties of those who refuse initial inspections. The city amended the language in the ordinance twice but still couldn’t avoid legal battles.
The state’s highest court overturned rulings by Goodhue County District Court and the state court of appeals. Those courts, and the city’s attorney, argued that the tenants and landlords couldn’t show that their rights were violated or about to be violated.
But the Supreme Court sided with the appellants, whose attorney Dana Berliner of the Institute for Justice argued that the ordinance is already affecting landlords and tenants.
“The constitutional issue that the landlords and tenants have raised is neither hypothetical nor abstract,” Justice Helen Meyer wrote in the court’s opinion, filed Wednesday. “The city has actually begun enforcing the rental inspection ordinance against appellants.”
The issue will go back to the state court of appeals, which saw the case in 2010, to address the constitutionality issues.
“Our clients sought to test the constitutionality of this law before it is used to illegally enter their homes,” Berliner said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the Minnesota Supreme Court, they will get an answer to that question.”
Attorney John Baker, representing Red Wing in the case, said if the courts agree with the tenants and landlords’ interpretation that the state Constitution requires probable cause for inspections, Minnesota would become “the most difficult place in the country for a city to operate a rental housing inspection program.”
While the merits of the ordinance were discussed during oral arguments in May, the case before the Supreme Court more narrowly focused on determining at what point citizens can question the constitutionality of the city's ordinance.
If an unconstitutional warrant is approved, most agreed the renters and landlords would be able to question the ordinance in court.
The city argued that the claims weren’t justifiable now, however, because the administrative warrant process allows for limiting the scope of the search, and because the landlords and residents have been successful in challenging all three of those warrants sought in the past.
“The courts are crowded enough trying to provide justice to people that have been injured,” Baker said. “Opening the doors more widely to allow things more speculative and hypothetical will only slow down the ability of courts to perform their classic responsibility of remedying actual injuries due to actual illegal conduct.”
But the state’s highest court said the process laid out in the ordinance isn’t enough protection.
“The possibility that a judge might in the future limit the city’s administrative warrant application to ensure that the warrant comports with the Minnesota Constitution does not make the challenge here premature,” the opinion states.
The court voted 6-0 on the decision. Justice David Stras recused himself from the case.